I’m a Potterhead. Anyone who has spent more than a half hour with me knows it – I don’t keep it secret, nor do I wish to. I wear my Deathly Hallows tattoo with pride, despite my sometimes sheepish behavior when I have to explain to non-Potter fans what it is, what it represents or where it’s from.
There is more to the story than “It’s a Harry Potter tattoo” or “It’s a popular symbol from the Harry Potter books.” What J.K. Rowling did for me many years ago was provide me with a world outside my own and friends when I had few.
I’ve always dreamed up scenarios in my head, as far back as I can remember. On bad days, as I went through my parents’ divorce, passed back and forth between parents every few weeks, lying in bed at night I frequently imagined myself elsewhere: A different place, a different life. As a princess, on my less creative days, or maybe as an old woman who owned a bookshop on a cobblestone street somewhere in Europe, drinking hot tea and reading books all day long.
When I was in elementary school, my Aunt Sheila gifted me two books for Christmas: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. She’d read the books, she told me, and loved them, and decided I was old enough to read them and love them, too.
I devoured them. I remember feeling bad for Harry in the first book, stuffed in the cupboard under the stairs, deciding that maybe the life I’d been given wasn’t so bad after all — perspective on my own life, something I’d never felt before.
While reading Chamber of Secrets, I remember hiding the book under my pillow, running to my dad’s bedroom — the basilisk terrified me.
From thereafter, summer after summer, I begged my dad to take me to the local Wal-Mart (the only place that sold books in our small town!) at midnight to get the next installment. Dad caught me reading Prisoner of Azkaban under the covers by flashlight way after my bedtime on a school night. Goblet of Fire made me angry and gripped me.
I cried on my 11th birthday, the years between Goblet of Fire and Order of the Phoenix, when I didn’t get a letter to Hogwarts. I bought my own Hogwarts stationery and wrote my own letters to myself, copied word-for-word from the books.
Order of the Phoenix was the first book that ever made me cry. I threw Half-Blood Prince across the room, bawling when Dumbledore died. When Deathly Hallows came out, I stayed up until 6 a.m. and read the entire book, slept until noon, then reopened it and started all over again. I’ve been doing this ever since, and every time I reopen one of the books, it feels like returning home after a long journey.
I buried these parts of myself for a very long time. I was outspoken about my Potter love in elementary school, when the books were at their peak,but middle school came and I left my baby fat and glasses behind. Liking books was nerdy, especially liking a book about a boy wizard. My love persisted, though I shoved it (and my Harry Potter themed bedding, toys, video games, spinoff books, hand-scribbled fan fiction in my journals…you get the point) out of sight.
I still went to every midnight movie premiere. I reread the books when I was feeling lonely, or when I needed to leave my flawed world behind for one of magic and love and passion and friendship and death and sorrow and pure joy. The turn of every page still felt like an adventure, and though I shut myself up in my bedroom alone and read for hours, I was never alone — Harry, Ron and Hermione were the truest friends I’d ever had.
In college, I stopped caring so much what people thought of me or the things and people that I loved. I moved to the city, to a large university, and there were people of all shapes and sizes and fandoms. I bought a Deathly Hallows t-shirt, my first HP-related purchase in years. My friends and I drew Dark Marks on our arms for the Deathly Hallows Part 1 movie premiere. The year after I graduated college, I permanently tattooed the Deathly Hallows symbol on the back of my neck and made my pilgrimage to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, thus placing me in Harry’s world in a way from which I would never be able to recover.
Maybe it’s nerdy. OK, it is nerdy, but I don’t care in the least. The fact of the matter is that the characters were my friends when I had few. Hogwarts was my home when I wasn’t sure where my real home was. Harry Potter was and still is a sanctuary from the dangers of my mind. Cracking open a Harry Potter book or flipping on one of the movies when I get home from a long day at work is one of my life’s greatest comforts.
The symbol on my back is not a silly reminder of some books and movies I really liked. It is an homage to a story that was an integral part of my life, an alternate reality, an engaging world that taught me about decisions and their consequences, about good vs. evil and about my choices in life. I feel honored to have been able to love something as much as I love these characters and places.
To people like me, those stories did not exist simply on the pages of those books. It was real. It is real.
I guess Dumbledore said it best, didn’t he?
“Of course it is happening in your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?”